Software updates are pushed to vehicles “over-the-air” (OTA) with increasing frequency as they reduce costs of visiting dealerships and auto shops to receive maintenance. These updates, pushed from the cloud, have been used to remedy safety defects in vehicles and improve software controlling all aspects of vehicles from steering to rearview mirrors. Remedies of vehicle safety defects are overseen by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); however, because many OTA software updates do not remedy issues officially deemed safety defects, they are pushed straight from the manufacturer to drivers with little government oversight or transparency. NHTSA’s recall process was designed in 1966 to remedy safety defects in vehicles, resulting in a process which is now outdated for modern vehicles running on software. NHTSA has acknowledged the increased use of OTA software updates and prescribed OTA remedies for safety defects, but the current framework leaves NHTSA unable to oversee the rapid output of OTA software updates pushed by auto manufacturers. Without updating the current recall process for software related updates to vehicles, and specifically over-the-air software updates, NHTSA’s ability to oversee vehicle safety may decrease and the recall process may grow obsolete as the issues facing vehicles today have changed since Congress defined what constitutes a safety defect.
NHTSA Up in the Clouds: The Formal Recall Process & Over-the-Air Software Updates,
Mich. Tech. L. Rev.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mtlr/vol28/iss1/5